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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Adam Strange in the 80s

You may remember Adam Strange from all those cool Silver Age science-fiction/adventure comics during the late 50s to the early 70s (i.e., Showcase, Mystery In Space, and Strange Adventures). We won't be talking about those today. Instead, we'll be covering Adam Strange's appearances from 1978's Showcase all the way up to his appearances prior to L.E.G.I.O.N. '90.

To the rest of us who really don't know who he is, Adam Strange was that guy with a jet pack and laser pistol who was usually found flying around battling some odd other-dimensional creature or menace. And for some reason he was very concerned with Zeta-Beams. There's actually a lot more to him than that.

A bit of background: Adam Strange first appeared in Showcase #17 (1958) and there's a bit of discrepancy about who created him. Some sources cite that he was created by editor Julie Schwartz and his costume was designed by Murphy Anderson, while other sources are stating that it was Gardner Fox and Mike Sekowsky. Schwartz is regarded as the 'godfather' of the Silver Age of Comic Books and the brains behind the introduction of the Silver Age versions of the Flash (Barry Allen), Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), Hawkman (Carter Hall) and the Atom (Ray Palmer). Showcase itself was a 'testing-the-waters' type of anthology comic as they frequently introduced new characters, gauged reader reaction, and decided if the character was worthy of continued appearances. [The foreword in the Adam Strange Archives v1 by Jim Amash reveals that it was a group effort: original concept by Schwartz, costume design by Anderson, scripting by Fox and illustrated by Sekowsky. Phew!]

Adam Strange was popular enough to appear as a regular feature in Mystery in Space (usually getting the cover) from 1959 to 1965. He then had a bit of resurgence in the late 60s and appeared in [Adam] Strange Adventures/Gigantic Strange Adventures/Strange Adventures from 1969 to 1973 (mainly as reprints). [Admittedly, my knowledge of the Silver Age of DC comics is pretty weak, so I've included some links at the bottom of this article you can check out.] Adam Strange had a bit of a presence in Justice League of America through the early-to-mid 70s, but not enough to really consider him a primary or secondary character in the book. And that's where Adam left off in 1977, now onto 1978...

Showcase #100 (1978) was a 'jam issue' of sorts, celebrating it's centennial issue by featuring every DC character who "made Showcase famous". This included the Flash (Barry Allen), Green Lantern (Hal Jordan), Hawkman, the Atom, Rip Hunter, the Teen Titans, Hawk & Dove, Lois Lane, Space Ranger, Tommy Tomorrow, and countless others... even 'funny' characters like Sugar & Spike, Binky and the Inferior Five had appearances.

Nothing really noteworthy about Adam Strange in this issue, except that he's hailed as "the best in the universe at Space-Fighting" (that honor is also shared with Green Lantern). He also gets a chance to drop a bit of science on us by explaining in visual detail how the Doppler Effect works - reminding us that Adam Strange is a 'scientific' hero who uses his wits and science know-how above all else to defeat his opponents. Adam Strange had appeared in Justice League of America a year ago, so it would be expected that he was still contemporary enough for readers to know who he was. It's not really considered canonical to the DCU, but was a "fun" issue nonetheless.

Immediately following his appearance in Showcase #100, Adam Strange teamed up with Hawkman and Hawkgirl in Showcase issues #101, #102 and #103. Written by Jack C Harris and illustrated by Al Milgrom (penciller) and Murphy Anderson (inker), Adam Strange joins forces with the Hawks to defend his adoptive world of Rann from an invasion of... Thanagarians? [Would that make this the first Rann vs Thanagar war?] It's revealed throughout the course of the story that the entire skirmish was orchestrated by two early 1960s Justice League of America villains who were feuding with each other and using the respective planets as pawns. It's a bit of a throwback to DC's Silver Age, as I seem to recall Adam Strange and Hawkman teaming up a few times. It's not the most fascinating read and kind of ends the way you'd expect it to, but this three issue story arc would play a BIG role in the Hawks continuity and would be repeatedly referenced in future Hawkman/Hawkgirl stories as the reason the Hawks had been banished from Thanagar as traitors (prior to this they were avoiding Thanagar due to the 'Equalization Plague'). It also threw Rann into a massive civil war that would affect future Adam Strange stories. Of note, Showcase #104 was the last issue in the series.

DC Comics Presents #3 (1978) was Adam Strange's next comic book appearance. DC Comics Presents was essentially a 'Superman team-up' book and a lot of the allure was guessing which DC character Superman would be teaming up with next. This Superman/Adam Strange team-up follows the events of the Rann/Thanager War previously mentioned in Showcase, and re-introduces an old Adam Strange foe last seen in the early 60s. By now you've noticed that this is the third early 60s super-villain that DC has re-introducing to a late 70s audience in 1978. This issue was written by David Michelinie (with Jack C Harris in a consulting role) and illustrated by José Luis Garcia Lopez.

The reason I'm briefly covering the last few years of the seventies is so you have some sort of context as to what Adam Strange was dealing with going into the eighties. Nothing drastic had changed since his Silver Age appearances - he was still a smart scientific-based superhero who was in love with his wife Alanna and his adoptive planet of Rann (and, for some reason I didn't understand, would die if he set foot on the planet earth. More on that later.)

Brave and the Bold #161 (1980) was a quick yarn about Batman and Adam Strange switching places to solve each other's case. Similar in concept to DC Comics Presents, Brave and the Bold was a 'team-up' title that had Batman teaming up with someone new every month. Gerry Conway wrote this one, and Jim Aparo illustrated.

This issue includes a quick origin recap telling us how Adam became the champion of Rann - with no mention of the Rann/Thanagar War that had happened two years prior. I'm not a 'continuity hound' by any means, but other readers picked up on these details too.

Brave and the Bold #161 hit the newsstands around the same time as World's Finest #262, which also contained a Hawkman/Hawkgirl story featuring Adam Strange. In this sci-fi/mystery tale, written by J.M. DeMatteis and edited by Jack C Harris, the Hawks have a very clear memory of the Rann/Thanagar War from Showcase and even reference the aforementioned BatB issue. The Hawkman/Hawkgirl story ends with a lead in to Adam Strange's solo-story as featured in World's Finest #263.
World's Finest #263 (1980) credits Schwartz and Fox as the creators of Adam Strange.

Adam's solo story was written by Jack C Harris and illustrated by James Sherman and Steve Mitchell. To be completely frank with you, of all the stories I've reviewed for this article so far, this is the best Adam Strange story I've read. Jack C Harris seems like one of the only writers/editors who seemed to care enough to keep Adam's continuity straight. In eight pages, Harris manages to capture all of the elements that make Adam Strange work as a compelling character. Adam Strange is a story about a hero who always makes the best of a bad situation: he was reluctantly abducted by Rann, but used his earthy cunning and scientific know-how to become Rann's champion. He's also a bit of tragic figure: he's at the mercy of the Zeta-Beam, which is somewhat unpredictable and tends to put a strain on his relationship with his wife Alanna (will they ever see each other again? when is he coming back?) and he cannot go back to earth without risk of death (a place he is homesick for) due to all of the Zeta-Beam radiation he's absorbed. Adam Strange tends to work best in solo stories, where the main focus is on him and he's not sharing the spotlight with Hawkman or Superman. This story builds on the events of the aforementioned Rann/Thanagar War from Showcase. [It was later revealed that this story was originally meant to be published in 1978's Star Hunters ongoing series.]

Adam Strange appears again in the World's Finest #264 Hawkman/Hawkgirl story (which picks up where World's Finest #262 left off), but it's just to say good-bye to Hawkman. As part of DC's 1980 commitment to bring you 'more pages for your money', an Adam Strange back-up feature would start in Green Lantern v2 later that month and run until December 1981.

Just look at all the cool back-up features that started appearing in DC titles. All this for a 10 cent price increase per book!

Jack C Harris was editing Green Lantern v2 when Adam Strange started being featured as a back-up. [Are you noticing a pattern here?]  Thankfully, Green Lantern had been leaning more towards 'cosmic' tales (first with the inclusion of the Green Lantern Corps back-up stories and then with more space adventures), so Adam Strange fit right 'in theme'. The first eleven issues of these back-ups (which were written by Laurie Sutton and edited by Jack C Harris) quickly resolved the Rann Civil War story line [which had been brewing since World's Finest #263] and now allowed Adam Strange to revisit earth. Len Wein edited a back-up story after Harris left as editor, and Dave Manak picked up  editing chores after Wein until the end of Adam's back-ups in Green Lantern v2 #147 (1981). The majority of the 8 page stories were illustrated by Rodin Rodriguez (with inks by Tex Blaisdell, Vince Colletta, Dennis Jensen, Pablo Marcos or Larry Mahlstedt) and Carmine Infantino pencilled a few (with Murphy Anderson inking at least one).

The Green Lantern v2 Adam Strange back-up tales were self-contained stories that primarily focused on Adam Strange, his core supporting cast and the planet of Rann (so no appearances by Hawkman nor the rest of the Justice League). The stories didn't really do anything drastic with the character and were nice little throw-backs to the Silver Age of DC comics. While they were good, there was some crazy stuff happening in Green Lantern v2 at the time - Marv Wolfman was writing for the title and re-introducing a lot of sci-fi elements to the series (ex: Silver Age sci-fi characters Space Ranger and Cryll were making guest appearances, the Gordanians were introduced, the Omega Men made their debut) - and I don't see why Adam Strange didn't get tied into this, especially with Wolfman's efforts to show a sense of cohesion within the DCU.

In the letter column for Green Lantern v2 #137 (1981), Harris confirms that these first few back-up stories were originally written by him and meant for another title [my guess would be 1978's Star Hunters], were shelved, and later revived and scripted by Sutton to be published in Green Lantern v2. I can't confirm this, but I suspect all the 1980 '8 page back-up features' were originally casualties of the 1978 DC Implosion and just recycled to appear in other titles. Harris is a pretty cool cat, and we managed to catch up with him and chat about his work on Adam Strange.

1978's Star Hunters #4
Due to a tepid response from readers, the Adam Strange back-up features were bumped for the more interesting Green Lantern Corps back-ups that had previously been running in Green Lantern v2. (It was hinted that Mike W Barr had some really interesting ideas for Adam Strange stories and wanted to take over the character.) Fandom just wasn't ready for an Adam Strange revival, yet. Coincidentally, it was reported that sales for Green Lantern v2 dipped pretty badly after the Space Ranger story [#136 - #137], and started climbing again after the Omega Men were introduced [#141].

I wasn't sure if I should include Justice League of America v1 #200 [1982] as an Adam Strange appearance. Yes, Adam does appear, but only on two pages as a deux ex machina. (Don't get me wrong, Justice League #200 is a fantastic book and should be checked out for it's own merits - especially the all-star cast of talent illustrating the anniversary issue). The issue contains a quick mention about the Rann/Thanagar War from Showcase - so it's nice to see that they're still keeping up with that continuity. It's also suggested that Adam and Hawkman's friendship has been strained since then - which might account for why Adam Strange hadn't appeared in any Hawkman adventures since World's Finest. This is just my speculation, however.

In 1982's Brave and Bold #191, Batman and Adam Strange meet up again - this time under graver circumstances [aren't they always?] as Batman needed to solve the mystery of who murdered Adam Strange. Edited by Dick Giordano, was this the Mike W Barr written story they were hinting at? Barr began writing Green Lantern v2 shortly after that missive was announced in 1982's Green Lantern letter column. Maybe Barr had a plan to include a Green Lantern/Adam Strange team-up story during his run and it never happened? In fact, Barr was writing for Green Lantern v2 as he wrote this issue. All things considered, BatB #191 was a very good issue and made reference to Batman's previous visit to Rann all the way back in BatB #161, so you know it's canonical. Other readers did not agree. Particularly one reader who was most likely the editor/writer for the Amazing Heroes comic book fan magazine who would later become a well-known writer for DC and Marvel comics and would win multiple Eisner Awards in 2012. In the letter column of BatB #195 (1983), someone named 'Mark Waid' wrote in and directly addressed Mike W Barr and Dick Giordano to say:
"I hate to put it quite this way, but I've been with B&B for twenty years now. Twenty years. And I must say that, in all that time, there was never as bad a story as 'Who Killed Adam Strange?'."
Waid goes on to pick apart the plot - which, to be fair - did have a few things that didn't make sense or were 'out of character' for Batman, and concludes with:
"Come on. A bad story isn't something to shoot for, but a great idea turned into a bad story is a crime. Think next time you, Mr. Barr, write a mystery and, Mr. Giordano, edit one. I haven't been this let down by a comic in a long time, and I doubt seriously that I have ever seen another that so much deserved never to have seen the light of day."
What's kind of ironic here is that Mike W. Barr would go on to write The Maze Agency for Comico in 1988 - a mystery comic series that would be nominated for an Eisner Award that same year. Clearly Barr knows how to write mystery. BatB would conclude 9 issues later at issue #200 [are you seeing a pattern here?] and would be replaced on the spinner racks by Batman and the Outsiders (also written by Barr).

DC Comics Presents #82 (1985) has Adam Strange teaming up with Superman, again. Written by Cary Bates, if you need one good reason to check out this comic book... it's for the gorgeous Klaus Janson art. It's a self-contained story about an ancient mystical Kryptonian villain attacking Rann, and should probably be recognized as the end of an era as Julius Schwartz was the  editor for this issue and pretty soon Superman would get Byrne-d and lose all of those cool Kryptonian legacy gimmicks that made him so fun to read in the Silver Age. Bates gave equal attention to Adam Strange and Superman in this issue, so it was a nice introduction to the character for any readers unfamiliar with him.

[This article is getting way longer than intended, so I'm just going to skip his appearances in Crisis On Infinite Earths, since he really doesn't do very much in that maxi-series cross-over. Same with the 1987/1988 Millennium event. -J]

If you've made it this far, congratulations. You must really care about the comings and goings of Adam Strange in the 80s, or are reading with a mild interest to see if I'm going to mention the Alan Moore revision. Well, your waiting has finally paid off.

Full disclosure: I am a major Alan Moore fan. I don't worship the ground he walks on by any means, but I feel that a lot of what he's written for comics is brilliant and influential. That being said, it is with a lack of personal bias that I tell you that the two-issue Adam Strange story in Swamp Thing v2 #57 - 58 (1987) is *the most important* Adam Strange story of the 1980s. This is Adam's first post-Crisis appearance and the story begins by taking a look at one of the less glamour aspects of Adam Strange's life - namely, chasing down Zeta-Beams to get back to Rann to be with his hot wife.

Despite being a Swamp Thing comic, Moore really delves into the personal life of Adam Strange, including:
  • his disdain for having to protect Rann from monsters when all he'd rather be doing is spending time with Alanna, 
  • the general population's contempt for him (as they feel he's no better than a primate), 
  • and the fact that Adam is aware of the general population's feelings towards him.   

In Swamp Thing #58, Moore really shakes up the Adam Strange mythos by revealing that:
  • Rann's environment had been severly damaged due to a tiny thermonuclear war several centuries ago and vast jungles have now become barren desertland,
  • the population of Rann is sterile (possibly from the same radiation that killed off the vegetation), and
  • Adam Strange was originally Zeta-Beamed by Rann to help re-populate the planet (starting with impregnating Alanna).
[That second point really sent me into a frenzy as I searched through every 1980s Adam Strange story I could find looking for children or babies on Rann. The only one I found was a kid named 'Rad' from the Green Lantern v2 back-ups, but it's eventually revealed that he's much older than he appears to be - so that doesn't really count. -J]

The Rann/Thanagar tension is alluded to, but the Rann/Thanagar War from Showcase is not acknowledged. [Perhaps it never happened as a result of Crisis on Infinite Earths?] Swamp Thing v2 #58 ends with an implication that the Thanagarians are plotting to invade earth. Readers had pointed out that the sinister motives of the Thanagarians in these issues kept in line with the Thanagarians depicted in 1985's The Shadow War of Hawkman mini-series. This two-issue Swamp Thing/Adam Strange story arc concludes with the announcement that Alanna is pregnant with (presumably) Adam's child - thus ending Rann's infertility streak.

These issues are important because a big hallmark of the 80s was the revelation that our Silver Age heroes were not as noble as they were previously depicted. Rann is no longer being presented as a futuristic paradise, but a civilization rife with it's own problems. Adam Strange is no longer presented as the unselfish & virtuous champion of Rann, but a man who gets to live a luxurious life with a beautiful woman on a faraway planet in exchange for being a breeding stud (and destroyer of monsters). Moore doesn't get all of the credit for this. It was revealed by editor Karen Berger, in the letter column of Swamp Thing v2 #62 (1987), that:
"The new approach to Adam Strange and Rann was actually the combination of Alan's talents and those of the writer of a new Adam Strange mini-series due to be released about a year from now, Donald. Alan was always planning to include a "Strange" adventure in Swampy's space odyssey stories, and when he heard of the character's new direction, he very graciously incorporated and established a number of the elements and events of the upcoming series (not to mention creating a solid batch of "Strange" concepts of his own as well)."
Berger didn't want to name the writer of the proposed Adam Strange mini-series, but it's a pretty good bet that she was referring to Richard Bruning and the Adam Strange: Man of Two Worlds three-issue limited series published in 1990.

Adam Strange next appears in 1988's Cosmic Odyssey - a four issue prestige-format limited series that gathered a few of DC's more popular characters (including the New Gods) to battle a cosmic threat. When Rann is being affected by an 'insanity plague', Starfire and Lightray arrive on the scene to assist. A promising team-up for Adam Strange, Starfire and Lightray is quickly 86ed when Adam is subdued early in the adventure and spends the majority of the issue KO'd. Ah well.

Cosmic Odyssey #2 (1988)
Cosmic Odyssey is a beautiful book, penciled by Mike Mignola and inked by Carlos Garzon. Written by Jim Starlin, this book included an all-star line-up of Batman, Superman, Starfire (of the Teen Titans), Green Lantern (John Stewart), Martian Manhunter, Doctor Fate, and Darkseid. Adam Strange getting to rub shoulders with these guys is a great introduction to the character for new readers. The big take-away here is that Rann is still acknowledged as an important facet of the DC cosmic universe (as is Hawkman's homeworld, Thanagar). Adam Strange and Rann are still very much a part of the DCU, which bodes well for the future of the character.

Adam Strange appears in 1988's Invasion! cross-over event as he decides to 'take one for the team' and surrenders himself to the invading Alliance forces to keep Rann from being attacked. In keeping with the previously-established continuity, Adam's soon-to-be born child is mentioned by Alanna before he voluntarily surrenders himself. As a prisoner, Adam 'spies' on the Alliance forces and notifies earth. He manages to escape his captors, but gets re-captured and is ultimately saved by Firestorm, Power Girl, Firehawk and Starman. His misadventures on Starlag (location where the Alliance is holding it's prisoners) indirectly causes the L.E.G.I.O.N. to form. You may not quickly identify Adam in this Keith Giffen-penned epic, as he spends the majority of his appearances in Invasion! #1, Firestorm v1 #80, Starman v1 #5 and Invasion! #2 out of his traditional red 'space cadet' costume and in a blue prison uniform.

Invasion #1 (1988)
Of note, Adam appears one final time in 1989 to say something soothing to Abby Arcane as she deals with the death of a loved one in Swamp Thing v2 #84. This appearance directly references his appearance in Swamp Thing v2 #61 (1987) in which he tried to deliver a message to Abby on behalf of the 'lost in space' Swamp Thing.

...and this concludes our article on Adam Strange's major appearances in the 1980s. The transition of Adam Strange from altruistic space cadet to the dark reluctant hero of Rann is slowly starting to unfold and we'll be seeing more of this in the early 90s. I'm sure we'll get around to covering his early 90s appearances (including his 3-issue mini-series) at some point in the near future.

In the meantime, he's a few articles about the Silver Age Adam Strange articles you can enjoy:

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